It is common to see either a cross or crucifix hanging on chain around a person’s neck. Rev. Richard Dillon of Fordham University often commented how an instrument of torturous death has become a symbol of pride, even a fashion accessory. Sadly, often overlooked is the Scapular. The wearing of the scapular is a discreet request from Our Lady during the last apparition, on October 13, 1917, in which she appeared in the third tableau in the guise of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Here is Lucia's testimony from her fourth memoir:
“Once Our Lady disappeared into the immensity of the firmament, we saw, next to the sun, Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus and Our Lady, dressed in white with a blue mantle. Saint Joseph and the Child Jesus seemed to bless the world, with the gestures they made with their hands in the shape of a cross. Shortly after, this apparition having vanished, I saw Our Lord and Our Lady in a form which gave me the idea that it was Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Lord seemed to bless the world in the same way as Saint Joseph. This apparition disappeared and it seemed to me that I still saw Our Lady under the aspect of Our Lady of Carmel.”
Several times, Sister Lucia insisted on the importance of the scapular, notably on October 15, 1950 to Father Rafferty: Our Lady, Lucia told her, held the scapular in her hands because she wants us to wear it .
In many books on Fatima, Father Rafferty pointed out, the authors do not mention the scapular when presenting the message of Fatima. Yet, the scapular is the sign of our consecration to the Immaculate Heart of Mary!
The scapular originates in the habits worn by the monastic orders, beginning with the Benedictines, and later adapted by many other religious communities. Basically, the scapular is a piece of cloth, about chest-wide from shoulder to shoulder, and drapes down the front and the back of the person with an opening for the head. At first, the scapular served more as an apron worn during work, especially farm work; consequently, in the Rule of St. Benedict identified it as the “scapulare propter opera” (“the scapular because of works”).
After the ninth century, a monk received the scapular after the profession of vows, and it became known as “the yoke of Christ” (iugum Christi) and “the shield of Christ” (scutum Christi). While certain modifications were made by the various communities, the scapular was a distinctive part of the religious habit.
Over time, pious lay people who worked closely with the monastic communities adopted a smaller version of the scapular. This smaller scapular consisted of two small pieces of cloth joined by two strings, and was worn around the neck and underneath a person’s clothing. Eventually these smaller scapulars were marks of membership in confraternities, groups of laities who joined together, attaching themselves to the apostolate of a religious community and accepting certain rules and regulations.
Eventually, these smaller versions of the scapular became even more popular among the laity. To date, the Church has approved 18 different scapulars, distinguished by color, symbolism and devotion. Most scapulars still signify a person’s affiliation with a particular confraternity, at least loosely.
Perhaps the best way to appreciate the wearing of a scapular is to reflect on the Prayer of Blessing offered in The Roman Ritual: “O God, the author and perfecter of all holiness, you call all who are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit to the fullness of the Christian life and the perfection of charity. Look with kindness on those who devoutly receive this scapular (in praise of the Holy Trinity or in honor of Christ’s passion or in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary). As long as they live, let them become sharers in the image of Christ your Son and, after they have fulfilled their mission on earth with the help of Mary, the Virgin Mother, receive them into the joy of your heavenly home.” The key to this devotion is not simply the wearing of a piece of cloth, but the spiritual conversion it signifies.